By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court on Thursday declared as illegal the country's main Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, effectively banning it from a general election due early next year.
The ruling that the registration of Jamaat as a political party conflicted with the country's secular constitution immediately triggered violent protests by party supporters.
Party activists took to the streets in the capital, Dhaka, and other towns including Bogra, Jessore and Gaibandha.
Hundreds of protesters blocked a major road and smashed vehicles in the Pabna district, northwest of Dhaka, police said.
Jamaat immediately appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict, senior defense lawyer Abdur Razzak told reporters. The party will be barred from contesting elections if the Supreme Court upholds the verdict.
The party also called for a protest strike across the country on August 12-13.
The party has been embroiled in the proceedings at a tribunal set up to investigate abuses during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
Six party leaders have been convicted of various crimes in connection with the war. Four of them were sentenced to death and two to life in prison.
Jamaat opposed Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in the war but denies accusations that some of its leaders committed murder, rape and torture during the conflict.
More than 100 people have been killed in protests and counter-protests since January, when the tribunal set up by the government delivered its first verdict.
Islamic scholar Syed Rezaul Hoque Chandpuri, who backed the legal action that resulted in Thursday's ruling, said Jamaat did not have the right to engage in politics.
"Jamaat did not believe in the independence and sovereignty of Bangladesh and the party committed serious crimes during the country's war of independence," he told reporters as he branded Jamaat an enemy of Islam.
(Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel)